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It came quietly, the sounds of “Parklife” shouted by tens of thousands in London’s Hyde Park still sending shivers up and down our spines. Blur’s reunion for a handful of shows in 2009 engendered enough good vibes among the Britpop quartet that their “love of all sweet music” apparently left them wanting more.
Lyrically, “Fool’s Day” reads like a mundane day-in-the-life tale like the Beach Boys’ “Busy Doin’ Nothin’” or “Blue Jay Way” by the Beatles, but with a considerably more satisfying emotional payoff. And ultimately, that’s what “Fool’s Day” is meant to be, a celebration of routine, and of knowing when something is good enough to not let go.
“Fool’s Day” was released in conjunction with Record Store Day in April, a single track in limited vinyl units followed by a free download. “We just can’t let go,” sings Damon Albarn, and it’s hard to argue as the music hovers, shifting back into another verse before the return of Graham Coxon’s gorgeous guitar reminds everyone why Blur’s final album, Think Tank, wasn’t quite what we hoped for.
“Fool’s Day” is four friends finding one another down the road, comfortable in themselves and where they are, in their own legacy and in the pure pleasure of playing music together. There’s more on the horizon for Blur, at least according to Albarn. If it’s half as warm a return as “Fool’s Day,” it’ll be welcomed with open arms. Crispin Kott
“All I Want”
James Murphy has made his home somewhere in between dance and punk, but “All I Want” moves out of that comfort zone as LCD Soundsystem’s first straight-up indie anthem. Built on a theremin-like guitar refrain and spazzed-out keyboards from the thrift store Yo La Tengo shops at, “All I Want” isn’t one of those impeccable, micro-managed soundscapes Murphy’s recordings usually are—and it’s better for it. While critics have pointed out its resemblances to Bowie’s “Heroes”, “All I Want” stands out by highlighting LCD’s impromptu, intuitive side. Arnold Pan
“Good Intentions Paving Company”
On “Good Intentions Paving Company”, Joanna Newsom exchanges several of her compositional staples for relatively simpler devices—harp for piano, antiquated metaphor for literal love narrative, slow build for consistently upbeat tempo. The song is catchy in the sense that, aside from existing fans, it could appeal to well-informed music fans who have hitherto remained on the fence regarding Newsom; the Top 40 masses will remain utterly confused. Regardless, she has crafted perhaps the least formidable entry point into an ostensibly inaccessible catalog. The term “otherworldly” is commonly employed by writers attempting to explain the allure of Newsom’s music. In that sense, “GIPC” does not elicit imagery of an alternate dimension paralleling the Celtic Renaissance. One could even imagine the Band performing it arond 1969 with Richard Manual on piano and vocals. In other words, “Good Intentions Paving Company” sounds like it could have been composed somewhere in America around the Civil War era. If we tailor expectations relatively, this is perhaps both as earthly and as modern as Joanna Newsom’s music gets. Anthony Henriques
“Stylo” surfs along easily enough for a couple of minutes, nestled snugly into a textbook Gorillaz electro-funk groove. Opening with a Mos Def verse and a subtle Damon Albarn pop melody as warm as an overheated circuit board, there’s a pleasant earworm burrowing away here, but nothing earth-shattering. Then soul legend Bobby Womack swoops into frame like an avenging angel, and the earth shatters. There’s never been much doubt that Gorillaz’s love is electric, but with Womack’s help on “Stylo”, it flows on the streets. Ross Langager
The New Pornographers
“The Crash Years”
When the New Pornographers roared through “Crash Years” at Lollapalooza this summer, the guy next to me asked, “Wow, what was that song?” As America suffers through its worst recession in decades, “Crash Years” was born fully formed into the pop ether. A catchy start-stop guitar hook is quickly overtaken by Neko Case’s siren song: “Light a candle’s end / You are a light turned low.” “Crash Years” is a shimmering gem in the darkness, a perfect expression of hope in desperate times. John Grassi
“Dancing on My Own”
When Robyn released her eponymous masterpiece in 2005 (or 2008 if you’re Stateside), she managed to merge singer-songwriter catharsis with undeniably catchy dance beats in a way that no one had quite heard before, as she played both extremes to their end: the songs never left your head, but the lyrics were filled with so much sting and heartbreak that it was almost impossible not to sympathize with her tortured characters. Proving that Robyn was no fluke, this year’s trilogy of Body Talk mini-albums upped the game by almost completely ditching guitars and strings and instead tried to replicate Robyn’s humane lyricism with the help of nothing but synthesizers. Rather making her songs sound cold and mechanical, though, Robyn was still able to find the real emotion in such stark surroundings, emphasized no better than by “Dancing on My Own”. Opening with a rapid-fire mechanical pulse, it’s not long before Robyn begins describing the undeniable pain of a one-healthy relationship: going to a club only to see her former flame dancing with a “new friend”, trying to make face by dancing all night even as it rips her up inside (this contrast captured brilliantly by the line “stilettos on broken bottles”). It’s a song that’s even more immediate than “With Every Heartbeat”, and yet somehow, even with all of this pathos, it’s even more danceable. Listen very closely to the bridge, and faintly in the background you can hear a phone ringing, sounding like it was coming from a studio booth. Perhaps the technician forgot to edit it out or maybe no one at the label caught it, but its presence on the recording proves a very important point: no matter who was trying to get a hold of Robyn at that moment, she wasn’t going to pick up—she was doing something far more important in front of that microphone. Evan Sawdey
“Written in Reverse”
On a Spoon album that doesn’t sound like anyone else (Spoon included), lead single “Written in Reverse” carries a note of the more unhinged Paul McCartney circa 1971, letting loose in some rundown barn with nothing but a dusty piano, a frayed amp and two drums. Beatlemania is always fashionable, but so are biting love letters, and Britt Daniel brushes a few choice phrases like wood shavings on the rugged beat. That throat-shredding second scream (“IIIIIII’m not standing here!”) let’s his lover know what fans knew all along: he’s not fucking around. Alex Bahler
All rise for your new national anthem: where-ever you live, whatever you like, “Tell ‘Em” is for you. The opening shot from noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells kicks off with a triumphant guitar line and machine-gun laptop blasts, and frontgirl Alexis Krauss sings something about doing your best today; it sounds pretty motivational, but frankly, she could be explaining that the Icelandic volcano eruption was an inside job and I’d still be on board. It works fine on shuffle, but be warned: “Tell ‘Em” may jolt you with the overwhelming desire to: (a.) throw your fists in the air, (b.) drop what you’re doing and listen to the rest of Treats immediately, or (c.) listen to “Tell ‘Em” again. Jesse Hassenger
“Cold War” is a triumphant follow up to Monáe’s 2010 death-defying single “Tightrope” and is a standalone anthem from an eclectic concept album about android Cindy Mayweather. Positively bursting, “Cold War” moves rapidly from the get go with its kinetic drum beat, futuristic fuzzed guitar and Monae’s anxious vocals. The music video reveals her heart-rending tensions and internal struggles filmed in an intimate (lip-synced) performance. Fortunately, Mayweather’s experience is not merely fraught with alienation, by the end she can justify vindication. Sachyn Mital
“The House That Built Me”
While the first two singles from Miranda Lambert’s 2009 powerhouse Revolution eased her gradually back up the country charts, it was the record’s third, “The House That Built Me”, that was the game changer, the ballad that made her a superstar. 2010’s best country song helped the Lamb step away from her shotgun-and-chicken-fried-steak persona in favor of some deeply felt nostalgia, although the kind that, thanks to artful lyricism and a goop-free acoustic-guitar arrangement, avoids the kind of sentimentality that has been Nashville’s cash crop. And like everything else she touches, Miranda sings the holy hell out of it. Steve Leftridge